Sepia toned map of Southeast Ohio
Claiming an Education: Early Black American Humanists

Educators: Writers who Challenged Conventional Thinking

John McHenry Jones



John McHenry Jones, portrait

A Minister and a Teacher: John McHenry Jones was born in 1859 in Gallipolis, Ohio, and his family later moved to Pomeroy, where he attended Kerr's Run Colored School and the all-white Pomeroy High School. Upon graduating at age 16, he was ordained a minister in the Free Will Baptist Church and also worked as a teacher in a school outside Pomeroy. In 1882 he became principal of the Lincoln School in Wheeling, West Virginia, one of the first Black American public schools in the United States. The school prospered under his leadership (1882-1898), since he was able to double the number of teachers and students and develop its curriculum. 

Writer with a Cause: In 1896 he published the novel Hearts of Gold, which challenged conventional thinking about a range of topics including racism, systemic injustice, lynchings, interracial relationships, and forced labor. It revealed a Black American community dedicated to education, fraternal organizations, journalism, and hard work, but abandoned by the U.S. political process.  


Hearts of Gold by ohn McHenry Jones
Courtesy of Ohio University Library

Principal and Entrepreneur: Elected principal of the West Virginia Colored Institute in Institute, West Virginia, in 1898, Jones increased the state and federal funding the institute received, expanded the curriculum, and oversaw major construction projects on the campus. During this time he also formed the Wilgera Oil and Gas Company—the first U.S. oil company owned by a Black American—and served as its director.  

See Hearts of Gold in the Ohio University Archives.

Read more at the Ohio County Public Library.

James Edwin Campbell


James Edwin Campbell, portrait

Leading a University: Campbell was born, educated, and died in Pomeroy, Ohio.  He graduated from Pomeroy Academy in 1884 and began his career in education as a teacher in Buck Ridge, Ohio, later relocating to West Virginia where he taught at the Langston School in Point Pleasant. While there he was elected principal of the West Virginia Colored Institute near Charleston, being the first to occupy that position. The Institute is now West Virginia State University, and Campbell is now regarded as its first president. 


Driftings and Gleanings by James Edwin Campbell

Writing Poetry in the People’s Voice: After moving to Chicago and becoming a staff writer for the Chicago Times-Herald, Campbell wrote two volumes of poetry. The first, Driftings and Gleanings (1887), included poems and essays in Standard American English, while the second, Echoes from the Cabin and Elsewhere (1895), was among the first published to include poems in the vernacular voice of the 19th century, displaying folk wisdom in a realistic, authentic dialect.